Trotsky and the Russian Revolution

The role of Trotsky in the Bolshevik Revolution

Trotsky became involved in Revolutionary work in the late 19th century. He was involved in establishing the Soth Russia Workers Union (1897) and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (1898). For his role in the latter, he was arrested and exiled to Siberia. He escaped from Siberia and changed his name from Lev Davidovich Bronstein to Trotsky.

Following his escape Trotsky became involved in revolutionary thinking and writing with leading exiles, such as Lenin. He became a writer for Iskra, the communist newspaper and participated in the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, at which he was amongst the leading Mensheviks.

In 1905 Trotsky returned to Russia and took part in the 1905 failed Revolution. He became a member of the St Petersburg Soviet and became its president in December of 1905. This role placed him at the heart of revolutionary activity within Russia and led to him being widely known amongst activists and revolutionaries who would aprticipate in the later revolutions. In 1907 Trotsky was once again arrested, along with other members of the St Petersburg Soviet and again he was sent to Siberia. Once more Trotsky escaped captivity and made his way to London. Here he wrote and edited Pravda, another Communist newspaper. He remained in exile, working on the publication of revolutionary materials, until 1917.


Image: Leon Trotsky

In 1917 he returned to Russia as the Tsarist state began to collapse. He rejoined the Petrograd Soviet (the city had its name changed during the war) and was soon arrested for his role in the Bolshevik uprisings in July of 1917 (the July Days). He was released after 4 days of detention and immediately returned to his work in the Soviet. In early October, 1917, he was elected Chariman of the Soviet and in this role he sided with lenin when the question of armed revolution split the revolutionary movement apart. Following that decision, it was Trotsky who led the armed overthrow of the provisional Government in October 1917, and he who acted as commander of the Bolshevik troops who fought off Kerensky’s forces in the days folowing the capture of the Winter palace and the arrest of Ministers of the Provisional Government.

Following the October Revolution, Trotsky became the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and led the Russian delegation who agreed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. He then took charge of the newly formed Red Army and led it in its victory over the White army in the Russian Civil War.

Throughout the revolutionary period and beyond, Trotsky remained an intellectual with clear views about the way that revolution should occur and develop. Upon Lenin’s death in 1922 many considered Trotsky to be the most obvious choice as leader. However his intellect came with an element of arrogance and he and some of his policies were unpopular with other leading Bolsheviks. As a result he didn’t become the next leader of the USSR and with Stalin’s rise to power, Trotsky was soon sidelined, then exiled once more.

Trotsky continued to write revolutionary books, articles and memoirs following his expulsion from the party and Russia. In 1940 Trotsky was assassinated by Soviet agents.

Trotsky in hospital after the attack that proved to be fatal.

Image: Leon Trotsky in hospital shortly before his death

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union

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